ART BY JOSEPH MENDOZA
By RENEE WANG
Behind all the laugh tracks and childhood nostalgia lies a deep, dark conflict between child actors and their parents.
In the entertainment industry, actors come in a wide variety of ages: some beginning their careers as toddlers. There are multiple ways that actors begin working at such a young age but taking a look into Hollywood’s past, cases of parents exploiting their children for money have become increasingly common.
In these specific scenarios, a child’s dream of becoming a prominent actor eventually turns into a situation of borderline child labor. For example, the 1996 HBO film, Crimes of the Century, brought in 3-month-old triplets to work as extras from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
While these issues have grown to be uncommon today, it is still relevant for society to take caution and look deeper into a child’s distress in a complicated family dynamic.
Obviously, parents have considerable control over their children, like telling them to “do their homework” or “wake up to go to school.” In a child actor’s perspective, it is obvious to leave your parents in charge of finance, because you are a minor, and oftentimes, you would trust your parents the most. Unfortunately, there are problems where a child’s innocence is exploited by parents.
Such was the case of the retired actor, Macaulay Culkin, who starred in the Christmas comedy film, Home Alone, when he was just eight-years-old. The movie eventually made Culkin one of the biggest child actors of his time. However, accompanied by his wealth and success was misfortune upon him and his father’s deleterious relationship.
Due to his parent’s divorce in the late 90s, Culkin and his fortune were split between the two which caused a series of court cases and tabloids of the family conflict for a period of time. Then, at the age of 14, Culkin retired as an actor to become more focused on his studies.
Undoubtedly, Culkin’s success has brought him and his family more grief than fortune, as at a young age, Culkin was a witness to the worst side of society, shaped by greed from none other than his own parents. This goes to show that the effects of a child in a work environment can prove to be detrimental to their mental health and growth.
For instance, pressures of looking good and being in the public eye are essential for an actor’s image, oftentimes attempting to appear perfect to the audience. Realistically, if a child actor wants to continue their career as an adult, factors like looks matter. Specific industry standards pressure child actors to keep up appearances which prove to be difficult for teenagers undergoing puberty.
Furthermore, being pushed into the work industry at a young age; most child actors tend to miss out on their childhood, an important part of an adolescent’s development. The problem is, these actors do not get time to actually develop.
According to studio teacher Linda Stone, who worked with the child actors on Disney XD’s TV series Kickin’ It, because of the child actors’ hectic schedules, some lessons are limited to as short as only two minutes. As a set teacher, Stone has to travel with child actors, once accompanying the singer Miley Cyrus for two concert tours. From this, it is evident that child actors do not just have the time for learning, but also completely prioritize their jobs before anything else.
Essentially, the problem is not just the long hours a child actor works, but also when the parents are unwilling to let their child stop when it is negatively affecting their child. It is important for parents to know that children themselves need to have time outside of work to develop other interests and skills. This is why when a child actor works early on till adulthood, acting has become such an important aspect in their life that finding another job within another field will prove to be difficult. In the end, they have to continue acting to survive in their adult life.
However, in recent years, more laws around child actors working have been implemented for their protection over their rights and salary. For instance, the updated Coogan Law states that all of the child actor’s earnings belong to them, where parents are legally responsible to maintain the money until the child becomes an adult. Nonetheless, people have to be more aware and set standards for Hollywood guidelines themselves in order to prevent any more future issues with child actors.
We all remember the child actors within Disney and Nickelodeon who entertained and made us happy in our childhood. In return, the least we can do is to pay attention to what happens beyond the screen.